Lakota Country Times: Rosebud Sioux Tribe wins sovereignty case

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe operates its court system in Rosebud, South Dakota. Photo from Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court

State Supreme Court backs RST Ruling
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

ROSEBUD -- A ruling from the South Dakota Supreme Court has reaffirmed the authority of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court and recognized the sovereignty of the Sicangu Nation.

The late Charlie Colombe was both a business man and an innovator. Even in death he seems to have found himself mixed up in a court ruling that could have a lasting impact on how state courts deal with tribal courts.

Earlier this week the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe by enforcing a tribal judgment in the amount of $527,146.76 in favor of the Tribe in a case involving the estate of Colombe.

In the case Charlie's son, Wesley Colombe, filed a petition for informal probate in Todd County, Sixth Judicial Circuit, and was appointed as personal representative of Charles’s estate. In February 2014, Wesley provided written notice to creditors. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe filed a notice of creditor’s claim, seeking to enforce an April 19, 2012 Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court (tribal court) order and judgment for $527,146.76 against the estate.

A tribal court judge had previously ordered that the amount be paid for money collected as part of a casino venture between the tribe and Charlie Colombe. Wesley would argue several points that had been already litigated in tribal court but the remaining questions surrounding the case would be if a state court would recognize a ruling already made by a tribal court.

RST argued that South Dakota’s public policy, “respect[s] and support[s] the sovereignty of Indian tribes and the integrity of tribal courts.” RST contends that Wesley “is simply trying to re-litigate the original contract dispute case against BBC and is asking this Court to effectively nullify the tribal court’s decision.”

The court would rule in favor of RST.

"In response, RST argues that its efforts to collect money unlawfully taken from it do not contravene the provisions of public policy. Rather, addition to recognizing tribal sovereignty and self-government, South Dakota public policy enforces valid judgments to collect money unlawfully taken," wrote Justice Kern.

Lead attorney for the tribe Dana Hanna praised the ruling.

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"I have had the privilege of successfully representing the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in this case in six courts—Rosebud Sioux tribal court, the Rosebud Sioux Supreme Court, the United States federal district court in Pierre, the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, the state circuit court in Winner, and now the South Dakota Supreme Court. Among the many things I have learned from representing the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and its people is that patience and perseverance really are Lakota virtues," said Dana Hanna, attorney for RST.

The South Dakota Supreme Court would also dismiss several of Wesley's arguments because he had failed to exhaust all possible remedies available to him by within the Tribal court system.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at editor at

South Dakota Supreme Court Decision:
Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Wesley Colombe (August 31, 2016)

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